“What was your favourite bit about Christmas when you were a kid?” they ask me every day.
“First tell me yours.” I always reply.
And they roam through the rituals, turning them over one by one – the hot chocolate when they write their Santa letters, putting the star on the tree, staying over in Grandad’s house on Christmas night, seeing their cousins. But in the end, the answer is always the same – coming down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought.
“So what was yours Mum?” they ask then, although we had this conversation yesterday.
I tell them that I loved coming down to see the presents on Christmas morning too, but that Christmas Eve might just have had the edge on it – when the anticipation is so strong it’s almost physical, and excitement is bubbling up inside, and we’re nearly but not quite there. There’s magic in Christmas Eve; magic in anticipating what’s about to happen, and wondering, and knowing, but not quite knowing.
And it’s still like that now I think – the before-bit is the best bit. And not just the night before – the full twenty-four days before. Taking down the advent calendar and filling it with chocolate. Hearing the first card plop through the letterbox. Rummaging in the box of decorations, remembering when and where we got each one. Lighting candles to brighten up dark winter evenings. Watching the nativity play. Listening to children singing Oh Holy Night and trying not to cry. And the sky. There’s something magical about the December sky. Every morning on the way to school, there’s a pink and white sky behind a filter of winter branches. Pale yellow sunlight that’s distinctly different at this time of year. As though it must make itself present when it won’t be here for long.
And as I walked through the school-yard this morning, as the first snowflakes swirled around us, the magic happened. Dozens and dozens of children twirling and whirling, faces skywards, trying to catch snowflakes on tongues.
“It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” ringing out all over the yard. Mothers catching eyes and smiling, even those I don’t know – an exchanged look that says we’re never too old to be excited about a tiny flurry of snow. It’s beautiful and swirly and light, and it’s not going to stick, but the kids don’t know that yet.
They’re busy looking up, hands out, tongues out. No screens, no YouTube, no Facebook, no wrangling politicians, no wifi, no battles, no borders, no chargers, no dramas – just twirling children in swirling snow. Like magic.